Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology

Etna Decade Volcano, Italy
Eruption update:
9-23 January 2001
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Do you plan to visit Etna in the near future?
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NEW: Excursions to the Etna area,
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The Etna telecamera is maintained by the "Sistema Poseidon" and there is no relationship of any kind with this site and its author. The Poseidon web site is in Italian, and the link to the telecamera is changed frequently, so that it is not indicated here (click on "Etna live cam" on the Poseidon home page). Please note also that all information provided on the present page (and the archived Etna news pages) is informal, based on personal observations, and is not intended to substitute, or compete with, the news bulletins now issued regularly at the Poseidon web site.

WARNING: Access to the summit area is DANGEROUS. Explosive activity may occur at the summit craters, and some of this activity may be phreatic or phreatomagmatic, without any warning. It is still officially forbidden to go beyond 2700 m elevation on the S flank. Tourists should make excursions only with the mountain guides, even though this will not satisfy the wish to see what's going on at close range. Besides this, weather conditions are often unstable during the current winter season. Strong wind, snow or rain and clouds are occuring frequently in the summit area, and one can get easily lost. The mountain guides can be contacted at the cable car (near the Rifugio Sapienza) on the southern side of Etna (phone: 095-914141), or (during the summer) at the hotel "Le Betulle" at Piano Provenzana, on the northern side (phone: 095-643430).

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NOTE. The most recent update (16 January 2001) is at the bottom of this page!.

9 January 2001 update. There has been no new eruptive activity at the summit craters of Etna since early December. All that has happened was the emission of gas from the Bocca Nuova, often condensing with white vapor (when the air was more humid). Beginning on 7 January 2001, the degassing from this crater has become more rhythmic, indicating that some explosive activity may be occurring deep in the conduit(s). Also, the Southeast Crater continues to emit heat. An incandescent fumarole continues to exist high on its southeastern flank, and following snowfalls, the snow rapidly melted on the southern and eastern flanks of the cone. By the way, very little snow has fallen so far on the mountain during this winter, and the expected skiing season has until now been a disaster. Before Christmas and again after New Year's Day, Catania enjoyed spring-like weather, with persistent clear sky and temperatures up to 25 degrees Celsius. This is the mildest winter recorded in recent years, and to this has to be added that the sparse rainfalls have caused a serious lack of fresh water in many areas of Sicily.
During the early morning hours of 9 January 2001, a significant episode of seismicity affected the southeastern flank of the volcano, shaking villages and towns including Catania and arousing some fear among residents. Tens of thousands of people were shaken awake by the strongest tremor, which registered 3.5 on the Richter scale (intensity V on the modified Mercalli scale). In towns closer to the volcano several weaker shocks were felt, but seismographs registered more than 30 single shocks. Their epicenters were located on the southeastern flank of the volcano. Press reports indicate that the focal depth was about 4 km below the surface and that
scientists monitoring the volcanic and seismic activity in Sicily did not see any correlation of the seismicity with the eruptive activity. However, in the recent past, theories put forward by various scientists envisage a possible connection between magma movements within the volcano and seismic episodes on its unstable eastern flank.
The seismicity did not cause any significant damage, although cracks opened in some older buildings in towns closer to the epicentral area. The last shock was registered at about 1000 h, but as of 1330 h on 9 January there are no informations about any further seismicity since then. The summit craters continue to be quiet, even though a light dusting of snow which fell the preceding night has immediately melted on the Southeast Crater cone, and grayish gas is issuing from the Bocca Nuova.

11 January 2001 update. The seismic crisis of 9 January on the southeastern flank of Etna ended that same day after more than 50 shocks, most of them too small to be felt, had been registered by the seismic monitoring network. At least three of the tremors measured 3.0 or more on the Richter scale, and several were distinctly felt by the population of a large area between Nicolosi, Fornazzo and Catania. Cracks opened in the walls of numerous buildings, but only one uninhabited building in Zafferana partially collapsed. Many people who remembered the much more severe earthquakes of October 1984 (which killed two people and damaged almost all buildings in Zafferana and Fleri) left their homes, and some preferred to sleep in emergency shelters which were installed that same morning.
The seismicity had no immediate visible effect on the volcanic activity at the summit craters, and a direct connection with magma movements within the volcano was ecluded. However, two days after the earthquake swarm, gas emissions from the Bocca Nuova became more intense and came in distinct puffs. This might be indicative of deep-seated explosive activity deep in one of the two vents of that crater, which showed vigorous Strombolian activity between late September and early December 2000. No significant activity has been noted elsewhere in the summit area.

12 January 2001 update. On the evening of 11 January, very weak Strombolian activity was observed at the Bocca Nuova after one month of no activity. This activity was not visible to the naked eye, but Giuseppe Scarpinati was able to recognize it with the help of a night viewing amplifying telescope. Small bursts occurred at intervals of about 2 minutes, presumably from the eastern vent of the crater. A few hours earlier another earthquake (Magnitude 2.8) had occurred on the southeastern flank of Etna, in the same area affected by a swarm of more than 50 earthquakes on 9 January.

15 January 2001 update. Very intense degassing is occurring at the Bocca Nuova and at the Southeast Crater as of noon on 15 January, and gas seems to be coming also from the northern and southern flanks of the Southeast Crater cone. Researchers of the Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche at Catania University reported to have heard detonations during the late forenoon. Clouds of white gas have also been observed expanding horizontally at the southern base of the Southeast Crater cone, which might be indicative of flowing lava. Visual observations are made difficult by bad weather, but what has been described above might be signs of a reawakening of the Southeast Crater after more than four months of quiet (if the emission of a very small lava flow from the fissure on its northern flank in late November and early December is not considered). So what may happen? If the Southeast Crater becomes active again, it might return to produce episodes of very violent eruptive activity with tall lava fountains, tephra columns and modest lava flows. Similar paroxysms occurred sixty-six times in 2000 and caused heavy tephra falls over many sectors of the volcano. The latest of these events occurred on 29 August 2000, only 24 hours after a stronger paroxysm, which followed two months of inactivity at the crater.

16 January 2001 update. Eruptive activity appears to be resuming at the Southeast Crater after one and a half month of inactivity. After nightfall on 16 January, very weak Strombolian bursts occurred at intervals of 5-10 minutes at the summit vent of the crater. The crater had emitted more gas than usually from its summit vent and from the southern flank of its cone throughout the day. Strong gas emissions, at times mixed with some ash, also occurred at the Bocca Nuova, and it is possible that Strombolian activity is occurring deep within its two vents.
The most recent eruptive activity at the Southeast Crater occurred in late November and early December, when a small lava flow was extruded from the fissure which cuts the NNE side of its cone. At that time it appeared that the buildup phase for a new paroxysmal eruptive episode had begun, but the lava flow ceased without being followed by a paroxysm. The new activity might once more be a forerunner of a paroxysm, but it is not possible to say if and when this will occur. The last time a paroxysm occurred at the Southeast Crater, in late August 2000, the buildup phase lasted almost two days.

19 January 2001 update. The following is based on visual observations made by Francesca Ghisetti (Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, University of Catania) from her home at Guardia, near Acireale, to the SW of Etna, on the morningo 18 January.
At around 0500 h loud detonations awakened residents of towns on the SE flank of Etna, and a dark ash plume was seen rising from the Bocca Nuova. Emissions of black ash continued for several hours until the summit area of Etna was covered by weather clouds and visual observations were rendered impossible. Bad weather has continued since then so that it is not known if eruptive activity continued.

23 January 2001 update. An active lava flow extending from the fissure on the N flank of the SE Crater has been observed on 21 and 22 January during clear weather. Observations were made by Giuseppe Scarpinati (Italian delegate of the Paris-based Association Volcanologique Européenne, L.A.V.E.) with the aid of a telescope and a night light amplification viewer from his home in Acireale. The first direct observation of the flow was made on the morning of 21 January after sunrise, when it was seen as a dark streak contrasting against the freshly fallen snow, and extending about 100 m towards the Valle del Bove. Steam was emitted from the sides of the flow, but its front appeared to be stagnating. On the evening of 22 January the flow was incandescent along its whole length and its front was actively advancing, with blocks tumbling frequently further down the steep slope. No explosive activity was observed at the fissure, but a fumarole high on the SE side of the SE Crater cone had become more luminous, and a weak persistent incancescence was also seen at the Bocca Nuova.
The new lava flow at the SE Crater is larger than the very small flow produced in late November to early December 2000. However, it is not clear whether the activity will eventually build up to culminate in an episode of vigorous explosive activity (a so-called paroxysm) with larger lava flows, like the 66 paroxysms that occurred in 2000. That impressive series of events began on 26 January, almost one year ago, and one might wonder whether the SE Crater is preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of that very special day...

Several other web pages covering the recent and ongoing eruptions of the Southeast Crater are now available; these contain photos and movie clips of some of the most spectacular moments of that period.

Etna in 2000 - a list of all paroxysms at the SE Crater since 26 January and photos (this site)

Etna in 2000 - various pages at Stromboli On-line with photos and movie clips of SE Crater paroxysms and Bocca Nuova gas rings: most photos are of Marco Fulle, the artist photographer among us

Extremely spectacular video clips, taken by British cameraman and film maker David Bryant on 15 February 2000
At "Italy's Volcanoes" -
At Stromboli On-line

An interview with Boris Behncke, made in late February 2000 by a BBC team and a video clip (RealPlayer)

Photos of the eruptive activity, 15-23 February 2000, by Tom Pfeiffer (University of Arhus, Denmark) - scroll to bottom of page

Photos of an eruptive episode on 13 February 2000, posted on the web site of the Association Volcanologique Européenne, Paris, France

Thorsten Boeckel's web site (Germany) with photos and movie clips of several paroxysm of the SE Crater in February, April and June 2000

A small web page reporting on Etna's current activity - and check what happens to your cursor on that page...

Charles Rivière's Etna home page, with many photos and video clips (the most recent of the paroxysm of 5 May 2000), frequent updates, and other, highly interesting items (in French and English)

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Copyright © Boris Behncke, "Italy's Volcanoes: The Cradle of Volcanology"

Page set up on 27 May 1997, last modified on 23 January 2001

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